Organized medicine takes on misdiagnosis problem

Diagnostic errors--which lead to more malpractice claims than any other type of medical mistake--were conspicuously absent from the Institute of Medicine's (IOM) 1999 "To Err Is Human" report. A follow-up report due out this month will aim to tackle the devastating and complex problem of misdiagnosis.

Despite the prevalence of misdiagnosis, which patient safety experts place at five percent to 10 percent, the causes of the problem are much harder to quantify, Andrew Olson, M.D., who has developed training on diagnostic reasoning at the University of Minnesota Medical Center, told the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

"Say somebody gets a wrong dose of medicine," Olson told the newspaper. "It's not easy, but you can figure out why it happened. You can trace the steps and line up the holes in the Swiss cheese. That's harder to do in diagnostic error because so much of it happens in our own brains."

The newly formed Coalition to Improve Diagnosis, established by the non-profit Society to Improve Diagnosis in Medicine, is at the forefront of a national movement to meet these challenges. The coalition, made up of leaders from organizations including the American College of Emergency Physicians, the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, the National Patient Safety Foundation and The Leapfrog Group, met for the first time this week and has the IOM's soon-to-be-released findings high on its agenda, FierceHealthcare reported.

In the meantime, educational interventions, increased collaboration between laboratories and clinicians along with improved patient handoffs are just some of the steps healthcare organizations can take to reduce the chance of a diagnostic error, Paul Epner chairman of the coalition and executive vice president of the group behind it, told FierceHealthcare in an exclusive interview.

"The big message is that it involves the physician from training through retirement," Epner said, adding it involves everyone in the healthcare system--from payers to risk managers to clinicians, laboratorians, radiologists and patients. "This is a significant opportunity to engage lots of players on a very understudied subject that is such a significant problem."

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